Friday, August 14, 2009

Not Enough Les in the World

I don't really have a lot of heroes. I suppose there are a few people who had profound effects on the world, politically and socially, nearly all of them from the past, who I find to have been heroic. And there were a few sports stars when I was younger.

But most of my few heroes have been musicians. And rarely just musicians, but people who also made an effort to change and improve things. John Lennon, Pete Seeger and sadly little-known Dr. Louis Gottlieb come to mind.

While those three sought to change things socially, Les Paul - who I would put on almost an equal tier with those mentioned above - was a hero for not only his incomparably superb records, but even moreso because of the ways that he improved - really revolutionized - recording.

I'm hardly the only one to say it, but simply put, many recordings and performances from the last sixty years (at least the non classical ones) would have been impossible without the developments and improvements explored and perfected by Les Paul.

Among other things, he either created or improved the electric guitar, echo on recordings, multi-speed recording and the fade-out. And of course, he invented overdubbing. For that alone, he deserves to be on Mt. Rushmore or something. When I put together a collection of my own material - a collection of one-man band recordings, all featuring multiple overdubs - it was dedicated to Les.

While most of these offerings today are not obscure, they are all certainly wonderful, and a few of them have rarely been heard outside of a box set. But I'll start with the top of the heap - my favorite Les Paul record, "Tiger Rag". I would term this a perfect record, if there ever was one - with tension and drive and a million things going on at once, and that pristine guitar sound, plus Mary Ford doing what she did best:

And another one which is almost as good, "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise":

It's out of season, but I must include another favorite - "Jingle Bells":

On to a few rarer pieces. This one, "Song in Blue", apparently takes a slow, waltzy thing (which I'm not familiar with, outside of this performance) and turns it into one of the hottest things Les ever created:

Next, here's one that I just love, "Honolulu Rock-a-Rolla" which was done for Les and Mary's TV show, and never released on vinyl. Les pointed out that - aside from doing some very soft backing vocals on "Tiger Rag", his grunts here constitute his most noticeable vocal on a Les and Mary record:

And finally, no tribute to Les Paul would be complete without the best tribute he ever received, a parody by Stan Freberg. To me, this is just genuis, with direct references to a couple of the records heard above, and just generally a good send up of Les' sound. Here's Stan's version of "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise", which ends with perhaps the best explosion ever created for records:

Thanks, Les


Laura E. said...

Nicely done, Bob. PBS had a show on Paul last week I think. It was pretty interesting. Amazing to hear how clean the recordings sound when you consider what he had to work with (and some of the technological fiddling he did himself).

Sammy Reed said...

Both versions of "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise" (Dang, I wanted to hear Freberg!), "Song in Blue", and the "Les & Mary's TV show" song are not working.